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Monday, 12 September 2011

The best place to be on a day like yesterday is down where the tall trees keep the sun off you and cool water runs over the rocks. Somewhere like Champagne Creek, for example – although despite my best efforts the picture fails to capture the enchantment.

Trust me, that water is cold and clear, and what looks like a patch of slime is actually nothing more than wet sand and stones. I went down there in a hopeful frame of mind. Packed a plastic tub and religiously checked out all the vines I’d seen earlier in the season. But if there were any grapes, the birds have had them. It wasn’t a hopeless quest: two years ago A and I canoed the river a little lower down, below Valentine, and helped ourselves to great fistfuls of ripe sweet fruit – and some delicious wild plums, but that was near Smith Falls. Still, I did harvest a pocketful of what look a little like an English hazelnut, but might be something else.


To be honest, they’re way too small to be worth cracking open, but an object of interest nonetheless. Down at the river I took off my boots and spent a pleasant twenty minutes cooling off. As ever I got involved with moving sand to re-arrange the course of the little creek. I guess I really am ready to be a grandfather. By the time I get home I’ll have three weeks to wait – plus a year or two until my daughter’s baby is old enough to help….

A couple of small sand-bars have developed close to the bank down there. They’re still submerged, but have a healthy growth of water-weed which I expect will bind the sand. I was intrigued to see this lovely flower growing quite happily with its feet in the water.


I am tempted to say it’s a marsh marigold, possibly a type of buttercup, but I have little confidence in my ability to differentiate between the many yellow blooms that feature in the reference books.

On the way back up I spent some time sitting and listening to the sounds in the valley. For the first time it occurred to me that there’s a substantial and noticeable difference between the gentle rushing noise the wind makes in the top of the pines compared to the rustling that underlies the sound as it blows through, say, the cottonwoods. Walking down there, hearing that sound and smelling the distinctive piney scent, gives me the distinct feeling of being some place that isn’t the Sandhills. It reminded me of places further west, of very different experiences I’ve had in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona.

Noticing those very different sounds, against a background noise of the creek cascading over the several falls, reminded me that it was only a few years ago that I realised how varied are the individual sounds that make what we think we hear as a river flows past. We were sleeping out under the trees beside a tiny beck on the North York Moors, and as dawn broke I became aware that my ears had started to differentiate a number of separate ‘plinks’ and ‘glops’ and gurgles and splashes as the water ran over stones of different sizes. At a casual hearing it’s simply generic ‘river noise’; listen carefully and you can hear the individual instruments that create the symphony.

Today, Monday, I’m heading for Ainsworth. I’ve been invited to take a short trip with a couple of members of the Arent family who visited the red house on Memorial Day.  I should be back Wednesday evening. I may or may not manage a posting between now and then.